Mental stress changes the way your body works and feels.
We’ve all felt it. Mental stress increases and we tense up. Sometimes the tension is in our shoulders, sometimes it’s in your low back, it can even affect your head, leading to a headache in your forehead or back of head.
When I talk to patients about stress, I mention 3 primary types under which all stress falls. Physical stress, mental stress and chemical stress. This post is about mental stress, but as you will see, each type of stress increases the next and the snowball of body break down that results, just keeps growing.
To use your shoulders as the example, as your muscles tighten under mental stress, there are chemical changes that occur. Histamines, prostaglandins and other inflammatory chemicals build up in the muscles. Chemical buildup in the muscles, if not dealt with, lead to chronic inflammation, tissue dysfunction and pain. Mental stress causes physical stress (tension) that leads to chemical stress (inflammation) and that leads to pain. Pain leads to more mental stress, and the cycle continues on until the proper intervention is applied.
Our lives are riddled with daily stress. For many, the levels of stress are high enough that we find ourselves in a constant state of “Fight or Flight”. The fight or flight response occurs when your brain perceives stress and tells your body to “prepare for battle.” This process involves the production of cortisol in the adrenal glands. Our bodies are not designed to maintain elevated levels of cortisol for long periods of time. The chronic inflammation that ensues is very harmful.
One of the biggest and most unsettling revelations of recent years is the effect that inflammation has on our bodies. TIME magazine in 2004 printed an article about inflammation leading to cancer, alzheimers, and heart attacks. Inflammation can lead to skin manifestations like psoriasis and may also lead to depression. Inflammatory bowel disease, COPD, gum disease, difficulty losing weight, decreased bone health, and a host of the manifestations result from inflammation.
For helpful tips on how to reduce stress read part II of this series.